When New Jersey governor Chris Christie vetoed legislation that would have prohibited the possession of gun magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition, it sparked the ire of gun control activists and those who lost loved ones to gun violence.
Barely an hour before Christie's announcement, families from Sandy Hook had delivered a petition with thousands of signatures imploring him to sign the bill.
Christie was unmoved.
"I was in Trenton with the Sandy Hook families that day to deliver their petition of over 55,000 messages to Governor Christie," said Nicola Bocour, Project Director of Ceasefire NJ. "I was outraged that Governor Christie vetoed the NJ magazine bill only one hour after we had left the State House."
It stung like a slap in the face.
"Governor Christie avoided the Sandy Hook families, ignored the voices of 55,000 petition signers and the vast majority of New Jerseyans, and waited until late in the day right before a holiday to release his veto," she said. "It was the very opposite of the straightforward, do-something approach to governing that he claims to have."
An abrupt about-face
Early in his career, Christie made it abundantly clear that he opposed assault weapons, The Daily Beast (TDB) reports. Second Amendment conservatives were dubious about his otherwise moderate stance on guns, thus opening him up to charges of inauthenticity.
"Most people in the Second Amendment arena don't believe him, because he's been on both sides of the issue," Richard Merkt, Christie's former running mate told The Daily Beast. "I think, in his core belief system, he is not a supporter of the Second Amendment...Anything he says in favor of the Second Amendment or in favor of a Second Amendment issue may not sound like it really comes from the heart, because I don't think it does."
In January of 2013, Christie criticized a commercial aired by the NRA that featured Obama's daughters, calling it "reprehensible," Philly.com reports. At the same time, he convened a "violence task force," to address gun issues that were now in the forefront of the ongoing debate due to the shootings at Sandy Hook.
Christie made recommendations based on the findings presented by the task force, but gun control advocates said they didn't go far enough. Around this time, two donations were sent to Christies re-election campaign from NRA lobbyist Randy Kozuch. The donations totalled $3,000 — admittedly a drop in the thimble in the world of campaign contributions.
Bocour said it's clear that Christie believes he has something to gain nationally by changing his position on this issue.
"He was running for office in New Jersey, a state that has always supported strong gun laws, when he previously showed his support for the New Jersey assault weapons ban, which contained the 15-round magazine limit," she said. "Therefore, it is difficult to know what Christie actually supports. He may just take whatever position suits him politically, depending on his aspirations at the time."
She said she thinks it's clear that Christie wants to run for President, and that he's willing to govern New Jersey based on what might be best for himself nationally.
"New Jersey residents and voters have been consistent on this issue and it is an important public safety measure, so he was clearly not acting in the state's interest," she said. "The language Governor Christie used was straight out of the NRA playbook. His argument that a reasonable, well-supported law would lead to some all-out ban was just the kind of fear-mongering argument that anti-regulation extremists like to use. It was clear pandering to the gun lobby."
The Daily Beast notes that 10,000 of the petition signers were from New Jersey, in fact.
Christie defended his stance by saying the measure was "reform in name only," saying that it would not reduce future instances of mass violence. Instead, he said that he wants to focus on mental health, which he considers the root of gun violence, according to The Daily Beast reports.
"I will not support such a trivial approach to the sanctity of human life, because this is not governing. Governing is confronting problems," he said.
The facts show, however, that at least in some cases, reducing the number of rounds magazines can hold has reduced fatalities.
"We know that in multiple cases, lives have been saved when a shooter has had to pause to reload," Bocour told Digital Journal. "The lives that were lost and those that were saved in such shootings are not trivial — and the sincere efforts to prevent that from happening in this state are not trivial."
Cases in point
• When Aaron R. Ybarra, armed with a shotgun, killed one person and wounded several others at Seattle Pacific University, he stopped to reload. In those brief seconds, a student building monitor subdued him with pepper spray and other students held him down until police arrived, thus preventing him from harming more students, according to Think Progress. It stands to reason that the more shells or bullets a magazine holds, the longer a shooter can go on shooting before the gun has to be reloaded. Ybarra stopped to reload after four shots, and this contrasts sharply with the shootings that occurred in 2012 at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado where 70 people were injured and 12 people killed by a gun that held a 100-round drum.
• When crazed gunman Jared Loughner opened fire and killed six people and injured 13 others, including former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, he used a handgun with a 31-round clip. Christina Taylor Green, 9, was struck and killed by the thirteenth round. Loughner was overtaken when he went to change magazines. If the gunman had been firing a ten-round clip, and then had to reload, Christina might still be alive today. In this article, Think Progress notes that since 1984, there have been at least 12 mass shootings in which the shooter used magazines holding between 10 and 15 rounds, according to the Violence Policy Center.
• When Adam Lanza stopped to reload his AR-15, some kids were able to escape, including the son of Hugo Rojas. “My son’s life is not ‘trivial,’ as the governor’s argument may suggest. This legislative solution would actually save lives. I know. This approach is not ‘simplistic,’ as Christie called it,” Rojas wrote in an opinion piece which appeared in The Star-Ledger. “I get to hold my son today because of just a few seconds during which the shooter stopped shooting and numerous children were able to escape. A few precious seconds spared during his reload made a lifetime of difference to our family.”
A few days after vetoing the bill, Christie was confronted by a reporter who asked him about the veto, TDB reports. He was characteristically unrepentant.
"If you take the logical conclusion of their argument, you go to zero, because every life is valuable," he said. "And so, why ten? Why not six? Why not two? Why not one? Why not zero? Why not just ban guns completely?"
In making this statement, it seems that Christie doesn't support any limit on magazine capacity, Bocour said. She added that the least arbitrary number is 10, which is the federal standard.
"While he has referenced the existence of the current NJ limit of 15-rounds, which has been in place for over 20 years, he has not stated if he actually supports that limit.
"No one is talking about banning guns completely, except for the anti-regulation extremists who use that as an excuse to oppose gun laws," Bocour said. "A 10-round limit is the federal standard that was part of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. That law was in place, with the 10-round limit, for a decade and it did not lead to a ban on all guns."
This is a serious public safety issue, she noted. The public deserves to know exactly where he stands on magazine limits.
"What number, if any, does Governor Christie support as the limit?" she asked.
The families of loved ones who died in the massacres at Sandy Hook and at the theater in Colorado, as well as the families of the 54,855 who have been killed by guns since Sandy Hook as of July 17, 2014, would probably also like to know what limit he supports as well.